Survivor's Guilt: Part I
We called him “Conejo” which means “rabbit” in Spanish. He was dark skinned and lean. His muscles only came out when he sprung into action. He was fast and could jump high. I recall watching him touch the top of the rim at the basketball courts at P.S. 100 in the Soundview section of the Bronx. He was nice with the hands. Conejo was way better at everything than we all were. He could run fast, play football, baseball, swim fast, outbox anyone, and slick talk his way out of everything.
If one of us got into a fight, he would coach us through it and we would win. Today, when I watch a youtube video of how to do a particular acrobatic move for Capoeira or Breakdancing, I imagine Conejo doing this in 2017. Back in the late eighties, he was that guy. If you needed tips on how to jump higher or lift more weights, you went to Conejo. He was very encouraging. You wanted Conejo in your corner when you were down. He had the right words to tell you. When I would strike out at baseball, he would not berate me. Conejo would tell me what I needed to work on and even offered to help me out.
When I learned of his suicide my entire world was shaken. It took me several weeks to get over the shock. Each morning I woke up, I expected to see him doing calisthenics outside like he did every morning. How could a brother who we all looked up to take his own life? At thirteen - it was the first time I came to grips with my mortality. He was too young to have children or to have a bigger impact on our community. I felt that it was all a waste. So after the shock, I felt betrayed. It was selfish but I was just a teenager and I still had much to learn.
Fast forward to my enlistment in the U.S. Navy. I came home on liberty one weekend and ran into a long time homie, Running Man Johnny. "He was always running to and from somewhere, hence the name." That day was no exception. When I jumped out of the gypsy cab with my sea bag and a hug box of presents Running Man Johnny offered to help out. I did not want to waste his time because I knew that if he helped me up my mother would have forced him to stay and eat. I hugged him and thanked him. I told him we could link up the next day and catch up. He agreed and ran off. I never saw him again. He was murdered a few hours later. As my brother and I dj'ed the night away in his bedroom Running Man Johnny was shot several floors below our window. We heard the gunshots. Running Man Johnny was killed by someone who he fought and beat the night before. While his name was given to him for always running to his destinations, he never ran from a fight. He was survived by a daughter who never got to know his long hugs. When I was a fresh faced teenager who wanted to just get his dance on and meet girls in other projects Running Man Johnny was my wing man who made sure none of the hardrocks jumped me. He saved my life in so many ways. All of my memories of him were good ones. Oftentimes when I pour libations, his name passes through my lips.
This year an elder I knew was murdered. At 44, I never imagined that I would still lose loved ones to gun violence. I thought that once we pushed through the pain of the Crack Cocaine era in NYC that we would not lose loved ones to gun beefs or drive bys gone bad. TC Islam lived in my building when we lived in the projects in the Bronx. He was lively and always dropping jewels on us. If there was anyone that was about peace and embodied the principles of the mighty Universal Zulu Nation (UZN), it was TC Islam. He was the last person I thought would be murdered. I thought that at a certain age we old heads would grow up to brag about our children and wait for the arrival of our grandchildren. I assumed that many of us would make it to elderhood and be called OG's by the youngbloods.
When I hear a young person call me OG it stings on so many levels. I think that I don't deserve these stripes. Clearly, Conejo, Running Man Johnny, and TC Islam would be OG's. We learned so much from them. I would be a liar if I didn't say that their lessons helped shaped me. The jewels they dropped helped me navigate through life as I got older. My life would have been vastly different if I never met them. I will go so far as to say I might not have survived to be this old if it wasn't for them and others like them who are no longer here.
I cry so much. I don't think I have the strength to cry anymore for losing so many loved ones in such a senseless manner. I wonder if at times, I am a pretender when so many who were stronger than me in so many ways are no longer here. So when I hear the term “OG,” it stings.
Son, Husband, Father, Teacher, Afro Latino B-Boy, Author, Capoeirista, T-shirt Model, Pro-Feminist, Hip Hop Diplomat
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